NRC – International 08/10/2009

Lawyer wants Argentinian ‘death flight’ pilot prosecuted in the Netherlands

The Dutch lawyer of the Argentinian pilot Julio P., who was arrested in Spain last month on charges of executing “death flights” during the Videla regime, is asking the Netherlands to file an extradition request. Gerard Spong, one of the Netherlands’ most prominent criminal lawyers, doesn’t want his client prosecuted in his native country.

The process of arresting the former lieutenant in the Argentinian navy was a complicated one. The 57-year-old has lived in the Netherlands since 1988. Because he obtained Dutch citizenship in 1995, the Netherlands could not extradite him directly to Argentina, where he is wanted in relation to the deaths of 1,000 people who were thrown into the ocean from airplanes.

But P. worked as a pilot for the commercial airline Transavia, so prosecutors from three countries worked together to have him arrested during a stopover in Valencia, Spain, where the Guardia Civil apprehended him on September 22.

P. appeared before a judge in Madrid on Tuesday and pleaded not guilty to the charges. He also refused to be sent to Argentina without a formal extradition request. Argentina now has a month to file such a request and P. will remain in prison until then.

But his Dutch lawyer said it is the responsibility of the Netherlands to make sure its citizens get a fair trial. In Argentina, P. could easily spend four to five years in pre-trial detention, according to Spong.


Dutch justice minister Ernst Hirsch Ballin has said he thinks it would be better if P. stood trial in Argentina because the Argentinian authorities are in a better position to investigate the case than their Dutch colleagues.

Spong, however, still believes he has a chance and said he will take the justice minister to court if he refuses to request extradition. “In most cases, the country in which the offences were committed is preferred, but the chemical weapons trader Frans van A. was also prosecuted in the Netherlands for crimes committed in Iraq,” Spong said. “The extradition treaty between Spain and Argentina says the current place of residence can be a decisive factor.”

Spong also thinks the testimonies of his colleagues at Transavia could be an asset. Fellow Dutch pilots reported P. after he told them about the death flights over diner in 2002. The topic came up because the colleagues were discussing the then new wife of crown prince Willem Alexander, Máxima Zorreguieta. Máxima is the daughter of Jorge Zorreguieta who was a deputy minister of agriculture under Jorge Videla. Her relationship with the heir to the Dutch trone put the atrocities in Argentina back in the limelight.

The amnesty laws in place in Argentina in 2002, when P. was first reported to the authorities, have since been revoked and make P.’s prosecution in Argentina possible.

But P. now says he was misunderstood by his co-workers and had in fact distanced himself from terrorism. He also says he was never stationed at the notorious Escuela Superior de Mecánica de la Armada (ESMA) in Buenos Aires from with the death flights were executed.

During Argentina’s ‘dirty war’ the Videla dictatorship got rid of its enemies by drugging them, putting them in airplanes and throwing them out over water.

Spong said his client did fly for the Argentinian army between 1977 and 1981, but only in a fighter jet, a Shyhawk. “That jet fits two people, the pilots,” Spong said.